ROCKSTONE: THE SLEEPING ECO-TOURISM GIANT
Mr. M.Z. Ali The Chronicle October 1998
Deep into the Essequibo River, there lies Rockstone, that sleeping Eco-tourism giant, just one of the many natural splendors Guyana is gifted with.
Rockstone could be accessed by road directly and through the Essequibo waterways, two ideal approaches to which any unsuspecting lover of Eco-tourism would fall prey.
Rockstone is situated 32 miles on the right bank of the Essequibo River above Bartica. Like its neighbouring village Anarika, Rockstone is made up of Amerindians, about 400 in both villages, who take pride in preserving their rich heritage.
The people of Rockstone are eager to develop their area, showcase it as one where eco-tourism could best be developed.
Turning off the Linden Highway at the bauxite plant, one continues on a perfect graded, dusty road which is frequently maintained with the application of bauxite overburden right to the end at Rockstone, bordered on both side by thick overgrowth. This is truly a striking similarity to the road and surroundings of the bauxite plant at Panaram in Suriname, to the hydro-electric power dam at Afoebaka.
As soon as one sets foot at Rockstone, one moves immediately into the hands of Brother 'B' who is ever so willing to assist visitors without a fee being attached. Brother 'B' is the kind of person who knows almost everything and everybody at Rockstone.
He told GIS there are some 42 families- about 250 people living at Rockstone.
They, like those in other Amerindian villages rely on ground provision farming and fishing.
However, unlike other villages, they also indulge in aquarium fishing. Brother 'B' pointed out that this type of fishing is done mainly by the women folk. This seems to be a fairly thriving business. Last Sunday GIS was there in time to see aquarium fish exporters buying the fish from the Amerindians. An average of $40 is paid for the perai and angel species, while as much as $300 is paid for Arawana.
Rockstone also has a primary school, and according to Brother 'B' plans are afoot to establish a nursery school there. He said SIMAP has promised to build a new primary school, and the other one would be converted into a nursery school.
He also pointed to a plot of land which is being cleaned to house what is called an aquarium camp. This camp is to be used as a storage facility and for viewing purposes by tourists. The Young Women's Christian Association International is organising funding from the Switzerland for this project.
Brother "B" is optimistic that this aquarium camp would be completed by January next year.
There are also plans to start a chicken farm project with an initial stock of 2000 chickens, and Brother "B" is confident that these two projects will provide meaningful employment for villagers.
Back to Eco-tourism, standing on the bank of the Essequibo river at Rockstone and looking across, one is immediately captivated by the formation of the beach. The beach is called Rockstone beach or "Golden Beach", while the lakes are called Black Lake and White Lake. It is in these waters that most of the aquarium fishes are caught. Lots of turtles could also be found in the waters of these two lakes.
Trade, Industry and Tourism, Minister Micheal Shree Chand who visited the areas last Sunday could not resist the charm of these two lakes and golden beach. Immediately after touching the sands of Golden Beach he said: "This is a beautiful beach that can be used for leisure and relaxation. I think this area has potential and if any materialise, certainly the indigenous community living here will benefit tremendously."
This beach is indeed only one of the wonderful products of nature which blend so elegantly with the compelling black waters of the lower Essequibo River.
With Brother "B", a village leader and the village captain who incidentally was also our boat captain (a good one at that), we set off from Golden Beach further down the river criss-crossing and negotiating the treacherous waters with unmatched skills.
It's amazing to see the various rock formations in the river as we went through the rapids on our missions which could be termed exploratory. It was later explained that those formations were not man-made, but were caused by under-water explosions.
Before reaching these rapids which are two-hour ride by boat off Bartica, is Truck Island. This is the largest island in the Upper Essequibo River, some ten miles long and three miles wide. Interestingly, at the middle of Truck Island, there is a pond in which our national flower, the Victoria Regia Lily is found.
It could not be ascertained whether German Botanist Robert Schomburgh who discovered the Victoria Regia Lily in 1837, did in fact make the discovery on Truck Island.
Coming off Truck Island, we moved almost immediately into the rapids and the small Wabrook Falls, where one feels a sense of satisfaction. The Wabrook Falls is definitely an Eco-tourist attraction.
Popular markets in tourism today include adventure travel, cultural Tourism and Eco-tourism, all of which are wrapped in one package at Rockstone.
Tourism indicators are pointing to the fact that Eco-Tourism represents about one-fifth of the tourism market, bringing more than $20 billion annually.
When asked about plans for the Eco-Tourism sub-grouping, Minister Chan said "we need to get the experts to come in and see whether this area in fact could be used for the purpose. Once this is done, and eco-tourism could be developed, the process will continued with the sourcing of funds to develop the project.
But this is one project he would like to see coming on stream.
"This will really be a pilot project to benefit primarily the Amerindian community in the nearby villages,' Minister Chan added.
This area if developed, could be a haven and given solace to tourists.